Cerebral Hemodynamic and Neurotrophic Factor Responses Are Dependent on the Type of Exercise

Samuel Weaver, Bethany Skinner, Rhodri Furlong, Becky Lucas, Nigel Cable, Catarina Rendeiro, Helen McGettrick, Sam Lucas

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This study examined acute cerebral hemodynamic and circulating neurotrophic factor responses to moderate intensity continuous exercise (MICT), guideline-based high intensity interval exercise (HIIT), and sprint interval exercise (SIT). We hypothesized that the pattern of middle cerebral artery velocity (MCAv) response would differ between interval and continuous exercise, with SIT inducing the smallest increase from rest, while increases in neurotrophic factors would be intensity-dependent. In a randomized crossover design, 24 healthy adults (nine females) performed three exercise protocols: (i) MICT (30 min), (ii) HIIT (4 × 4 min at 85% HR max), and (iii) SIT (4 × 30 s supramaximal). MCAv significantly increased from rest across MICT (Δ13.1 ± 8.5 cm⋅s -1, p < 0.001) and all bouts of HIIT (Δ15.2 ± 9.8 cm⋅s -1, p < 0.001), but only for the initial bout of SIT (Δ17.3 ± 11.6 cm⋅s -1, p < 0.001). Immediately following each interval bout, MCAv increased (i.e., rebounded) for the SIT (9-14% above rest, p ≤ 0.04), but not HIIT protocol. SIT alone induced significant elevations from rest to end-exercise in vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF; Δ28 ± 36%, p = 0.017) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF, Δ149% ± 162%, p < 0.001) and there were greater increases in lactate than in either other protocol (>5-fold greater in SIT, p < 0.001), alongside a small significant reduction at the end of active recovery in insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1, Δ22 ± 21%, p = 0.002). In conclusion, while the nature of the response may differ, both guideline-based and sprint-based interval exercise have the potential to induce significant changes in factors linked to improved cerebrovascular and brain health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number609935
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Prof. Greg Atkinson for assistance on some aspects of statistical analysis and model design, Isobel Davis, Lauren Lauritzen, and Neha Patel for data collection assistance, and all the participants who volunteered their time to make this study possible. Funding. This work was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of SW?s Ph.D. Studentship Award (ref: 1943514) through the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Program (MIBTP).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Weaver, Skinner, Furlong, Lucas, Cable, Rendeiro, McGettrick and Lucas.


  • cerebrovascular
  • exercise
  • hemodynamic
  • neurotrophic factor
  • physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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